|395. Choi, I.; Suntivich, R.; Plamper, F.A.; Synatschke, C.V.; Müller, A.H.E.; Tsukruk, V.V.: pH-controlled Exponential and Linear Growing Modes of Layer-by-Layer Assemblies of Star Polyelectrolytes, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 133(24), 9592 (2011) -- DOI: 10.1021/ja203106c|
We report the unique layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly behavior of pH-sensitive star-shaped polyelectrolytes with both linear and exponential growth modes controlled by star architecture and assembly conditions. Cationic poly[2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate] and anionic poly(acrylic acid) stars were synthesized via core-first atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) based on multifunctional initiators, in addition to their linear analogs. We demonstrated the LbL growth behavior as a function of deposition pH (ranging from 5 to 7), number of layers (up to 30 bilayers), and the method of assembly (dip- vs spin-assisted LbL). The spin-assisted LbL assembly makes it possible to render smoother and thinner LbL films with parameters controlled by the shear rate and pH conditions. In contrast, for dip-assisted LbL assembly, the pH-dependent exponential growth was observed for both linear and star polyelectrolytes. In the case of linear/linear pair, the exponential buildup was accompanied with a notable surface segregation which resulted in dramatic surface non-uniformity, worm-like heterogeneous morphology, and dramatic surface roughening. In contrast, star/linear and star/star LbL films showed very uniform and smooth surface morphology (roughness below 2.0 nm on the scale 10 μm x 10 μm) with much larger thickness reaching up to 1.0 μm for 30 bilayers and rich optical interference effects. Star polyelectrolytes with partially screened charges and high mobility caused by compact branched architecture appear to facilitate fast diffusion and exponential buildup of LbL films. We suggest that the fast buildup prevents long-range lateral diffusion of polyelectrolyte star components, hinders large-scale microphase separation, and thus leads to unique thick, smooth, uniform, transparent, and colorful LbL films from star polyelectrolytes in contrast to mostly heterogeneous films from traditional linear counterparts.